Why These Diners Are Upset Over Unexpected Charges On Their Restaurant Bills

As of September 2022, the overall inflation rate in the United States was 8.2%, with the inflation rate for food being 11.2%, per the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The inflation rate of food affects not only the price of items in grocery stores but also the prices that restaurants set on their menus. Many restaurants are still recovering from the effects of the pandemic, while others weren't able to stay in business at all. According to Time, the restaurant industry was down in 2020 by $240 billion, and sadly, an estimated 110,000 restaurants had to permanently or temporarily close during the height of the pandemic.

Given time to repair, the retail and food service sector made around $684 billion in sales in September 2022, which is an 8.2% increase from the same month last year, according to the United States Census Bureau. While the growth is there, a lot of restaurants are still trying to stay afloat, and one way to combat rising inflation rates and hard losses from the pandemic comes in the form of extra service charges (per Vox). However, many diners either aren't aware of these extra charges or don't understand the reason behind them. Most recently, nine diners found themselves shocked after seeing significant unexpected charges on their restaurant bill from Marivale's Bar Totti's, an Italian restaurant in the central business district of Sydney, Australia (via 7News). 

High service fees shocked a group of diners

The group dined at Bar Totti's in Sydney on October 28, 2022, and ordered a vast number of menu items including drinks, six main dishes, four side dishes, and 13 antipasti dishes, with their total coming out to $826.75, equal to $528.55 in U.S. dollars (per 7News). The diners inspected their bill and discovered a "service charge" for $74.75 ($47.60 U.S.) along with a $30 fee ($19.18 U.S.) for three bottles of water. 

With the discovery of these extra charges, the group questioned what the service fee went toward and felt that perhaps it was a "mandatory tip" for "the most basic level of service." The group also claims that the server charged them for water bottles without explaining how much they cost first. Bar Totti's menu does state a few extra charges that guests can expect, such as a 1.05% extra charge for credit cards and a 10% service charge that applies to parties of eight or more.

According to Vox, service charges at restaurants are becoming more common today, with average service charges varying from 3% to 20%. Service charges can go towards a number of things including covering tips for servers who make minimum wage, giving back-of-house employees part of the tips, helping the restaurant cover credit card fees, paying for employees' healthcare, or maybe even staying in the pocket of the restaurant owner.